WHILE my wife at my side lies slumbering, and the wars are over long,
And my head on the pillow rests at home, and the vacant midnight passes,
And through the stillness, through the dark, I hear, just hear, the breath of my infant,
There in the room, as I wake from sleep, this vision presses upon me:
The engagement opens there and then, in fantasy unreal;
The skirmishers begin—they crawl cautiously ahead—I hear the irregular snap!
snap!
I hear the sounds of the different missiles—the short t-h-t! t-h-t! of the
rifle
balls;
I see the shells exploding, leaving small white clouds—I hear the great shells
shrieking
as
they pass;
The grape, like the hum and whirr of wind through the trees, (quick, tumultuous, now the
contest
rages!)
All the scenes at the batteries themselves rise in detail before me again;
The crashing and smoking—the pride of the men in their pieces;
The chief gunner ranges and sights his piece, and selects a fuse of the right time;
After firing, I see him lean aside, and look eagerly off to note the effect;
—Elsewhere I hear the cry of a regiment charging—(the young colonel leads
himself
this
time, with brandish’d sword;)
I see the gaps cut by the enemy’s volleys, (quickly fill’d up, no delay;)
I breathe the suffocating smoke—then the flat clouds hover low, concealing all;
Now a strange lull comes for a few seconds, not a shot fired on either side;
Then resumed, the chaos louder than ever, with eager calls, and orders of officers;
While from some distant part of the field the wind wafts to my ears a shout of applause,
(some
special success;)
And ever the sound of the cannon, far or near, (rousing, even in dreams, a devilish
exultation,
and
all the old mad joy, in the depths of my soul;)
And ever the hastening of infantry shifting positions—batteries, cavalry, moving
hither
and
thither;
(The falling, dying, I heed not—the wounded, dripping and red, I heed not—some
to the
rear
are hobbling;)
Grime, heat, rush—aid-de-camps galloping by, or on a full run;
With the patter of small arms, the warning s-s-t of the rifles, (these in my vision
I
hear or
see,)
And bombs busting in air, and at night the vari-color’d rockets.

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2 Comments

  1. Bill Smoke says:

    I’m a Vietnam veteran who served at more than one fire base with the 1st Infantry. The poem mirrors actual nights I have experienced, right down to the baby sleeping in the room with my wife and me. It is surprisely healing to find this “flashback” so beautifully and frightenly expressed. I feel a kinship to those veterans of my great grandparents’ era. I no longer feel quite so alone. Bless you Walt Whitman.

  2. Gabe Duran says:

    I enjoy the fact that Whitman has already through his poem has described the effects of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) in the Artilleryman’s vision. His description and exactness of the sounds of battle/war are so powerful and visual.

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